Sunday, June 25, 2006

The World's Cup Of Tea Definitely Ain't My Cup Of Tea

When I hear or read that the U.S. is not held in high esteem by world opinion, I often think to myself, "Yeah. And soccer is held in high esteem by world opinion. So do you have a point?"

The American Thinker has a nicely written anti-soccer essay.


Despite decades of strenuous efforts to promote soccer to American youth and sports fans, and despite the phenomenal success of the American women’s soccer team in international competition, soccer remains the neglected stepchild of the American sports scene. Indeed, when the American men’s team was bounced in the first round of the World Cup this week, the response from the nation at large was a great big yawn. Compare this to the black cloud that descended over the country when the American men’s basketball team failed to win the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics.

So why don’t Americans like soccer? There appear to be two basic explanations. The first is that the “marketplace” for sports in this country already is filled with baseball, football, basketball, and (to a much lesser degree) hockey, leaving no room for soccer to grow in popularity.


I’m not convinced. Marketplaces are inherently dynamic. If soccer were a worthy object of the American sports fan’s interest, then it would enjoy greater popularity. But it doesn’t. Which brings me to the second common explanation for its lack of popularity: soccer is boring. As a blogger vividly explained only a few days ago:

The first round [of this year’s World Cup] isn’t even over yet, and there have already been five 0-0 draws. Five matches in which nobody scored. In the Argentina-Netherlands match, there were a total of six shots on goal in the match (three a side). For those keeping score at home, that’s one shot on goal every fifteen minutes (and that’s only if you ignore “stoppage time”). There were nineteen total shots taken, if you include the thirteen that weren’t on goal. So barely over one shot every five minutes, on average. When Americans complain that “nothing happens” in a soccer match, this is exactly what we’re talking about.

While I’m on this rant, there were six 1-0 matches, three 1:1 draws (nine total draws), and fourteen other shutouts (twenty total shutouts if you count the 1-0 matches). So out of forty matches played, in 25 of them, at least one team failed to score at all. That’s a staggering 62.5%! (By way of comparison, there were fifteen baseball games today, and two of them were shutouts; in all but 13.3% of the games, fans of either team had at least something to cheer for; and baseball isn’t exactly known for being the most exciting sport in the world…)

In my opinion, a lack of scoring is not merely an incidental aspect of the game of soccer—it is its essence. That is, the ultimate purpose of soccer is to engage in lots of furious activity to accomplish . . . absolutely nothing. Not surprisingly, when that elusive goal is scored (if it is scored), ear-shattering howls of euphoria erupt from players, announcers, and spectators alike, as if their very souls were being released from the depths of hell.

Goals are indeed a rare commodity in soccer, so much so that soccer is, essentially, a zero sum game. The “pie” of goals not only is meager, it never grows. So it is fought over with an intensity that is almost never found in American sports [reminds me of the quip about academia: the infighting is so fierce because the stakes are so low]. This isn’t boring, but it is deeply unsatisfying to Americans.

My theory is that Americans have neither the belief system nor the temperment for such a sisyphean sport as soccer.


That soccer may be “the most popular sport in the world” speaks volumes—but not about America’s lack of sporting knowledge or sophistication, as soccer aficionados like to argue. Rather, I think it reflects the static, crimped, and defeatest attitudes held by so many of the other peoples on earth.

The day that soccer becomes one of the most popular sports in the United States is the day that American exceptionalism diminishes in our souls.


Anonymous said...

Although a retired sports editor (west coast, a loooong time ago), I have never seen a hockey match. Soccer as played in the US seems to be much more leasurely than the style of play in Europe, but not as much as baseball, and the latter is lightening-fast in comparison to cricket (yech!). The interest in the World Cup has subsided even more now that the team from México lost.

Michael Poole said...

That is a pretty egregious misuse of the term "zero sum game" -- some nations (like American Samoa after their 31-0 loss to Australia in a 2001 qualifying match) probably wish soccer really were a zero sum game where goals are guaranteed to be limited.

I do not think national work ethic as mediated by expected points in a game is a good indicator of preferred sports. If you look at England, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Pakistan, soccer is the most popular game. Yet the next most popular game is cricket -- where victory margins alone often exceed 100 points. This suggests that some other mechanism must be invoked to explain the US's diffidence towards soccer.

Akaky said...

The American indifference to soccer is easily explained, I think: if Americans want to watch track and field events then we watch track and field events. Watching foreigners engage in track and field events under the cover of kicking a geodesic ball is one, boring, and two, deceptive advertising, both of which are annoying in the extreme.